CD re-review: Lars Petter Hagen: Orchestral Music

hagen

Lars Petter Hagen: Orchestral Music | Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Rolf Gupta. Gjermund Larsen, Hardanger fiddle | Aurora

I reviewed this disc not that long ago for Nutida Musik, but I feel like it deserves a second pass here. Mostly that is because of its first piece, Norwegian Archives, which I’ve listened to several times now since submitting my review and which, although I don’t think I scored it badly, I certainly hadn’t fully worked out at the time.

As well as a composer Lars Petter Hagen is also a festival director (of Ultima, and others before that), and therefore a prominent and influential voice in contemporary Norwegian music. Much of his recent music is concerned with memory, nostalgia, and the troubling nature of cultural nationalism. Several pieces on this disc make allusions to Grieg in particular, but there are also less concrete elements like airy harmonies that live towards the top end of the harmonic spectrum, and allusions to nature and rural innocence. All three come together in the quintessentially Norwegian sound of the Hardanger fiddle, a folk instrument with sympathetic resonating strings, for which Hagen’s To Zeitblom is a concerto.

All of this comes out of the sounds of Norwegian Archives; icy chords, ringing harmonics, calm waters. But they are nudged out of shape by buzzing, tinnitus-like irritations, echoes and reverberations, and sliding glissandi. These are almost the physiology of recollection made sound. The notes generally come only one at a time. The continuity, the narrative, on which ideology feeds, is completely broken. Hagen uses the tactic to some extent on all the pieces on this recording – The Artist’s Despair Before the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins, Tveitt-Fragments, Funeral March Over Edvard Grieg, To Zeitblom – but it appears to the greatest extent in this piece. Any story-making must take place internally, in the critical intellect of the listener. Neither is the orchestra used as a machine for creating continuity, but instead is a repository for timbres, wispy allusions. Its forces are hardly employed en masse, and even then only for a second or so at a time. For the rest, we get a sort of desiccated Mahler of duets and chamber groupings, fleeting and remote.

I’m not saying it isn’t a problematic piece; Hagen’s music has been the site of a certain amount of controversy in Norway. But that’s the nature of nostalgia and nostalgia critique: it can be hard to tell the two apart, particularly within music, in which the same object can stand in equally for both. But I have grown increasingly to admire it – admittedly as an outsider to Norwegian music – and I have a lot of time for the narrow path Hagen is trying to tread.

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